Monday, May 14, 2007

Yes we are old, many of us. But for the most part, not at all fat.

Why are so many yoga teachers and serious yoga students "old", as in past their twenties (sorry Tiff, I mean Gumby or whatever!)? As far as teachers go, I know that I wouldn't particularly want to be taught by a young teacher (again, sorry Tiff). I like the wisdom and experience that comes with age in a yoga teacher. In vinyasa classes, there's a lot of philosophizing and talking about life during class. I wouldn't want to be philosophized to by someone younger and less experienced than me. In some Bikram classes I've been, too, same problem, only worse. I've heard the worst kind of drivel coming out of the mouths of some of the young Bikram teachers - stuff like, "if you do this, you will never get cancer", and even if I had never had cancer, I would still think that to be idiotic.

In Ashtanga, the teacher is very much a therapist of sorts. Maybe not a psychotherapist. I mean, there's not a lot of talking going on at all. But an Ashtanga teacher needs to read his students, to understand their needs in a very personal way, in a way that requires an abundance of skill, skill that can only be acquired over years and years of life, yoga practice and yoga teaching. I feel that Ashtanga teachers NEED to be "ripe". I wouldn't want one from "straight off the vine".

As for Ashtanga students, well, the reality is that there are many young Ashtanga students, but because it is such a demanding practice, many young people can't do what it requires. Forget staying out late. Forget partying. Forget promiscuity. Forget long gossip sessions. All of that stuff saps you of energy that you need if you are going to practice Ashtanga. Ashtanga requires a commitment of three to six days a week, and when I say three, I am being nice about it. In reality, it should be practiced every day except Saturdays and moondays. You can't do that if your energies are all dissipated by a wild, youthful lifestyle. Of course,, if you are young and committed and determined, you can have a wonderful Ashtanga practice and take advantage of all of the youth that your supple body has to offer. But I find that Ashtanga is the type of practice that you grow into. It isn't something I was ready for in my twenties. It's something many people come to later on, when other things don't work, when running gets old, when there's a hunger for something more than just lifting a dumbell and logging miles on the elliptical.

The life experience that we oldies have under our belts reinforces our commitment to the yoga and tells us what we need to know to keep going: that practice and all iIS coming, that dedication and commitment DO matter, that the body is a wonderful thing and should be honored, and a demanding physical yoga practice like Ashtanga is a rewarding way to honor it.

So, that's why we're old.

As to fatness...Ashtangis tend to be among the skinniest of all yogis. You can't look at Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and point him out as an example of fat ashtangis. Guruji is a portly man of 90 plus years. He no longer engages in the physical practice. His grandson, on the other hand, is a charismatic, supple-muscled, very slim man. His beautiful body reveals him as a devoted practitioner of Ashtanga. Look around at any shala - most people are slim. Most people are rather ageless-looking. Most people have heart-rates under 60 beats per minute and blood pressure at the low end of normal. Most people have enough muscle on their slender bodies to kick the proverbial ass of most casual gym-goers who outsize them.

I'm just saying.



Carl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

I think most of my yoga teachers are also therapists at heart. (I'm a therapist, so I can say this!) They say so many of the things I say in my work -- I guess in a yoga class you just don't know who is taking it in, though. I think yoga and psychotherapy are a natural fit... (I know I'm planning to combine them)

As for thinness, maybe I don't count, because I'm not strictly Ashtanga -- but the four power classes I go to a week are Ashtanga based and tough. I've been doing 4 classes a week since January 1 and I've only lost 3 pounds. yeah, THREE!! Everyone says my body has totally changed, etc. etc. and my clothes are loose, but I keep wondering -- when do I get the "slim" effect all the other Ashtangis have?????

Sorry to rant. :)

boodiba said...

I've maintained some of my wild and youthful lifestyle AND I'm old. But it's arranged around the yoga for sure. I fit in what I can...

I agree with the therapy thing. I used to get so upset I'd be on the verge of tears if I had a "bad" practice. Thankfully the scale of badness now is much less than it used to be. Anyway, a couple times Greg followed me out of the studio to give me a pep talk. He was totally attuned to that.

Oh ya and once I burst into tears when Patti was teaching. That was a pretty obvious indication of emotional distress though. A big clue.

Cheri said...

Are you like stealing my ideas now?
Fat Drunk yogis? Oh, wait that's Carl's.
I mean fat old astangis?
You don't have to get all defensive.

Anonymous said...

trouble is, that we are getting older. and someday, we won't be able to find many people older than us to teach us something. i agree about the philosophizing, but there is a teacher here who is young and he is DEEP--douglas ridings, go ahead and google him. He ALWAYS teaches me something and he's at least ten years younger than me.
The ashtanga thinness happens at around kapotasana. I haven't seen it happen before. It has happened to me, and now I notice some 3rd series qualities to my body (third series practicioners look bug-like to me). Of course, do not say 'third series' to me when I am huffing and puffing after tittibhasana. I will cry.

Anonymous said...

oh god, I spelled 'practitioners' wrong. I'm so embarrassed.

Julie said...

around Kapotasana... maybe I have to get my heels first ;) (totally kidding).

About 7 years ago a bunch of my friends enrolled in a teacher training course (non-ashtanga). Most had never practiced yoga before, a few had here and there... I swore to myself then and there that I would never teach yoga until I had been practicing myself at a bare minimum of 3 years. I recognize now, 5 years in, that though I love teaching kids, I'm not sure I'm "ready" to teach adults... the few experiences I've had have been quite fun though. I am always leery when I am in a class and the teacher has only been practicing a year or so... there is so much more to the practice and the art of teaching than the ability to do the asana... I think it is the practice and the years of dedication that bring that awareness to the surface.

Tiff said...

Not sure when awareness happens to teach...I only belong in gym like setting classes. I wouldn't ever feel ready to adjust in a mysore class.

I also am a bit apprehensive when I see a young teacher. Experience only comes with age and even then, wisdom might not always be there. Just because someone is older or has been practicing longer isn't necessarily criteria for them to be more capable of teaching, esp if they've got ego issues (like a number of people at my shala).


di's travels said...

just out of curiosity ... what age are you refering to when you use the word 'old'? i've been wondering what the average age of an ashtanga practioner is ... and this seems like the perfect place to ask!

i started practicing ashtanga yoga at 41 after many years of doing no physical activity. i HATED it, but had a friend (thank god for treena) that would drag me to class with her. i'm now 46 and about to start a month long yoga teacher training course in ashtanga.

i started practising to get my friend to quit bugging me, and i've kept it up because it offered a manual to get through the second half of my life (early 40s usually brings a lot of introspection).

i think perhaps the thing that age brings is a little wisdom (hopefully), the ability to recognize your own limitations, and therefore the limitations of others, and humility. i find every time i step on my mat in my shala that i gain a little of each.

Julie said...

Tiff -- experience comes with age, not necessarily wisdom you are absolutely right... I, personally, think there is an internal mechanism that begins to build within us as we practice ashtanga traditionally... and I think it is that experience and wisdom that facilitates teaching... it has more to do with the progress of practice from a psychological perspective than a physical asana perspective but it is hard to explain.

I don't even necessarily think ego plays a part in it (though now I'm trying to figure out who has ego!), more, the experience of going through the motions if that makes sense.

A wierd concept but one of those intangible pieces of the practice that you slowly become aware of over the course of many years.

Tim said...

Your post calls to mind something I was thinking about during guruji's recent illness -- what type of relationship the established teachers might have with Sharath as he takes over?

(I've never been there & only know one authorized teacher reasonably well, so I am speculating out of pure ignorance.)

Sara said...

Yeah, what exactly is old? I hope I don't qualify among the really young teachers (30ish) and doubt I do... on the other hand, I will be careful about philosophizing too much after reading what you've said, as some of the students are older. I won't be teaching ashtanga, however, so maybe it doesn't matter.

Where I am, I don't see many older ashtanga students. Most of them are in their 20s, and no older than 40. There are also second-series students who are still carrying some extra poundage; we don't have a lot of "ashtanga bugs." On the other hand, Alaska is known for its obesity problem...

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I live by a duck pond. I used to live by the East River. I don't work. I used to work a lot. Now, not so much. I used to teach a lot of yoga. Now not so much. I still practice a lot of yoga though. A LOT. I love my kids, being outdoors, taking photos, reading magazines, writing and stirring the pot. Enjoy responsibly.


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